Hawaiian monk seal pups benefit from virus beach closures

  • Hawaiian monk seal Manuiwa catches a wave in to shore in 2019 at a Kona Coast beach. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

HONOLULU — Beach park closures caused by the coronavirus pandemic have benefited Hawaiian monk seal pups, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

Agency researchers said the endangered seals have been able to nurse and rear newborn pups with relatively little disturbance from humans because of Hawaii’s stay-at-home orders in response to COVID-19, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

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Nine pups have been born in the main Hawaiian islands since the start of 2020, including four on Oahu, two on Molokai, and one each on Kauai and the Big Island. NOAA does not disclose the exact locations of pups to help protect them.

“Because people have less access to the beach, there has been less potential for interaction, which happens when people are on the beach in large numbers,” said David Schofield, a NOAA stranding coordinator.

“If people are using the beaches the way they’re supposed to, moving through and swimming and surfing then we perceive there will be less interaction between the public and marine wildlife,” he said.

Although there are fewer people on the beaches, NOAA officials asked the public to remain a respectful distance from marine animals, including monk seals and turtles

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“It’s a marvelous thing to come upon a monk seal mom and pup,” Schofield said. “It’s such a treasure to have the monk seal in Hawaii. People who use the beaches know how precious the wildlife is, but some may not.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

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